In the films of Hayao Miyazaki, the mundane and the magical live side by side. His new film, “Ponyo,” due out Aug. 14, tells the story of a young boy in a home on a cliff overlooking the water who befriends a supernatural sea creature that lives beneath the waves. The filmmaker says he got the idea for the movie when he was living in a house on a cliff with a view of Japan’s Inland Sea.
The 68-year-old Japanese animator is known for making movies that take place in imaginative settings. His 1986 movie “Castle in the Sky” focused on the search for a mythical flying city; much of his Oscar-winning 2001 film “Spirited Away” took place in a bathhouse for spirit creatures; and his Oscar-nominated 2004 movie “Howl’s Moving Castle” featured a troubled magician who lived in an ambulatory residence.
“Ponyo,” features perhaps the most star-studded cast for a Miyazaki movie, including the voices of Cate Blanchett, Liam Neeson, Matt Damon, Betty White and Tina Fey.
Disney, the studio distributing the film in the U.S., has marshaled the next generation of its stars to support the movie, which also features the voices of Noah Cyrus (Miley’s little sister) and Frankie Jonas (younger sibling of the Jonas Brothers music trio).
Although Mr. Miyazaki is little-known in the U.S., in Japan he is a household name and his films are blockbusters.
The director said his career path was set after watching the animated fantasy film “Panda and the Magic Serpent” as a teenager. At the time, he was feeling “a lot of pressure” because he was studying for exams. Although the film was only a “cheap love romance,” it made a deep impression on him, in part because the movie was made in Japan. He had been planning to become a writer of Japanese manga (comic books), but instead decided to become an animator.
Mr. Miyazaki, who is also a screenwriter, typically works by drawing sketches of the characters in his movies and handing them over to the chief animator to flesh out. His films rely on hand-drawn animation, but he has nothing against computer animation. “The reason hand-drawn is so important is that I am only able to do hand-drawn,” said the animator, speaking by phone through a translator.
Many of Mr. Miyazaki’s films explore the futility of conflict. Mr. Miyazaki said growing up in Japan in the shadow of World War II shaped his outlook about war, but he strives to keep his views from coming across too “overtly” in his films. He said, however, that his opposition to the war in Iraq was one of the reasons why he decided not to attend the 2003 Academy Awards, where “Spirited Away,” won for best animated feature.
The importance of safeguarding the environment is another recurring theme in his work. In “Ponyo,” man and nature are portrayed as out of balance, and the sea is depicted as full of garbage. “All I did is just draw how the sea has become, the way it is in reality,” said Mr. Miyazaki.
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